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Reply from Patriarch Bartholomew to Patriarch Alexis

July 11, 1995, Prot. No. 937

Your Beatitude and Most Holy ALEXIY, Patriarch of Moscow and all
Russia, our Modesty’s most beloved and dear brother in Christ God and
concelebrant, embracing Your venerable Beatitude fraternally in the
Lord, we greet You exuberantly.

We received Your Beloved and distinguished Beatitude’s lengthy letter
dated May 18, 1995, Protocol No. 1308, and read it with due care during
a session of our Holy and Sacred Synod. The tone of this letter and its
contents, which do not in the least correspond to the presumed kindred
and by definition good relations between our two sister Churches,
naturally stirred in all of us here — and certainly in all of the other
Orthodox who received it — not only astonishment, but also very deep
bitterness and even grave disappointment.

The unexpected character of this letter compelled us, out of respect for
the peace held between us, not to respond immediately, so that it not be
thought that we were hasty or under pressure in judging the curious and
discomforting contents of the letter, or that we were under the effect of
the unfavorable sentiments which we justifiably felt.

Therefore, after having allowed a reasonable amount of time to pass, we
answer you today with calmness by first returning the Paschal greeting of
peace on the occasion of Our Lord’s Resurrection. Then, in the most
official terms and in the language of evangelical sincerity, we are obliged
to present the views of the Holy Great Church of Christ in Constantinople
on this matter with the hope that in the future we will not need to
readdress such troubling concerns.

At any rate, Your Beatitude, it is quite evident that in answering you we
will not render account on the accusations made against us, whether
directly or through insinuation, as though we were guilty. You felt it your
right to impute these accusations upon us for having received under our
omophorion our brethren who for decades were dispersed here and there
in the Diaspora — certainly through no fault of the Mother Church of
Constantinople — into various ecclesiastical formations and who with
great anguish sought peace and salvation in God. Rather, the Church,
which knows how to exercise “acribeia” and “oikonomia” toward the
salvation of souls, in time responsibly examined these cases in detail as
they occurred. Thus, we think that you should have more assiduously
avoided any illegitimate oversteppings and judgments.

We, therefore, should like to remind you briefly of only a few but very
important truths concerning the issue, which, unfortunately, Your beloved
Beatitude and the Most Reverend brothers with you either overlooked out
of human weakness, or, even worse, because you believed it possible for
the issues of those affected to be passed over without protest.

First, we must state categorically that we do not recognize the Most Holy
Church of Russia as having any authority whatsoever over the Ukrainians
in the Diaspora who have come under the omophorion of the Church of
Constantinople since they, being abroad, had the right to seek the
protected shelter of the Mother Church of Constantinople with which they
historically have unbroken bonds and whose rightful jurisdictional
authority and obligation it is to bring about their restoration.

Second, the often troubled past throughout the history of each individual
group concerned here as it relates to the Church — for which, we repeat,
as it is known, the leaders of schisms and irregular situations are not the
only ones to blame, and still less to blame are their distant descendants of
today — was by no means unknown to the Church of Constantinople due
to her inherent ties to all the Orthodox peoples of the Balkans and
beyond. Thus, regretfully, but with great forbearance, we can at best
characterize the canonical-historical presentation of the problem in your
letter as an oversimplification.

Third, it is certainly well known to Your Beatitude and your brothers that
the recent attempt by the Church of Constantinople to regularize a faction
within the Diaspora’s pending canonical issues — which ought not to be
— was neither without precedence nor was it a hurried or novel action.
On the contrary, this recent attempt came about in continuation and as a
natural consequence of similar formal acts of the past clearly aimed at
unification in the spirit described above. We regret that unfortunately the
same cannot be said for the repeated actions undertaken by the Church o f
Russia in these very same regions of the Diaspora. The consequences of
such actions not only undermines the peace of the Church which has
existed between us until now, but also mortally injures pan-Orthodox
order and progress; the foremost and most outrageous instance being the
totally unmanageable “autocephality” of the Metropolia in America.

Fourth, we must confess with great sadness that throughout the entire
seventy years of Soviet tyranny the Mother Church of Constantinople,
while painfully observing the uncanonical defiances [sic] or incidents
going on here and there, had the impression that such actions were
dictated or even imposed by the hegemonic tactics of the atheistic regime.

Thus, we co-suffered with you and judged with leniency. Today,
however, when the winds of freedom in Christ blow again for all it would
be truly sad to think that the long-term and unconsciously — from
reckoning the greater endurance the redefining of the jurisdictional
boundaries of your Most Holy Church as effected by the vicissitudes of
history. However, as you were so timely reminded by our three-man
delegation headed by His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos of Australia
with regard to the Estonian ecclesiastical issue, the Church of
Constantinople would be able to teach many through its own example of
martyrdom. It is well known that during the Ottoman Empire, the Church
of Constantinople, after rather immense jurisdictional expansion, found
that in these new times she had to strip herself — certainly this was
painful and not pleasant — of her racially closest children, the Hellenes,
because she did not want to be an impediment to their further progress
toward political freedom. The Church realized that true strength is not
found in great numbers and worldly well being, but in bearing witness to
the will of God through obedience.

Fifth, of course to a certain extent we can comprehend the fears Your
Beatitude and your Holy Synod have as to the consequences which the
settlement of the Ukrainians in the Diaspora could eventually have had on
the general situation in Ukraine, if proper care had not been taken. In this
regard we would like to assure you that the induction of the Ukrainian
communities into the canonical order of the Orthodox Church by
receiving them under the omophorion of the Ecumenical Patriarch will,
we believe, finally prove to be beneficial for the relationship between the
Most Holy Church of Russia and the faithful in Ukraine. This is so
because on the one hand those received were obligated to formally
declare that they will not seek autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church, or
event [sic] a part of it, through know[n] methods employed by the
“autocephalists” who operate in every way possible. On the other hand, it
is no longer possible for them to cooperate or to commune with
schismatic Ukrainian groups which are out of communion with the
Orthodox Church without bearing harm to themselves, provided the
canonical principle “one who receives communion with another who is
out of communion finds oneself also out of communion” is still valid for
them.

The same must be also said of our dutiful assistance offered Estonia, as
our official delegation mentioned above tried to fully explain when they
visited you. Responding to the persistent petition of the Estonian
Orthodox Church to return to the autonomous status granted her by the
Ecumenical Throne in a Patriarchal and Synodal Tome, which
unfortunately was forcefully and simultaneously unilaterally abolished
when the Soviets deprived the Estonians of political freedom, we are
providing a way out of the bitterness borne from the hardships
contiguously endured during the tyrranical period.
The development and further regularization in their relations with the
Church of Russia would thus become easier psychologically and certainly
no one could then deny the Church of Russia’s contribution to them.

Sixth, after having explained both of these matters — Ukraine and
Estonia — we were left with the impression that we had not only
fraternally informed the Most Holy Church of Russia of our intention and
actions regarding these issues, but that we had also listened to the fears
and objections which you expressed to our Patriarchal delegation. Our
Holy and Sacred Synod indeed properly weighed all these things with
respect to how it would further handle things. For these reasons we must
say that your letter came literally as a lightning bold out of the blue sky.
We were even astounded that during a recent trip to Geneva Your
Beatitude unjustifiably eschewed our Holy Stauropegial Church there by
not celebrating the solemn Divine Liturgy on the occasion of your visit
and instead you felt the need to go to a heterodox church, which was
indeed scandalous not only to the Orthodox, but to others as well.

Seventh, we do not wish, dear brother, to comment on all that His
Eminence Metropolitan Damaskinos of Switzerland relayed to us in
writing concerning similar complaints coming either from Your Beatitude
directly or from His Eminence Metropolitan Kyrillos of Smolensk and
Kalliningrad who was accompanying you. Because when you say, among
other things, that for our recent visit to the Vatican the consent of all the
Orthodox was needed, or that we “concelebrated” with the Pope of Rome,
then, certainly, our understanding of each other becomes especially
problematic.

Nonetheless, Your Beatitude, as much for ourselves personally as for the
most reverend brothers with us, we in no way desire to agitate our
fraternal relations. Our relations indeed are indispensable for all of us
now more than ever as we are in the midst of a world which is constantly
changing and being subjected to a myriad of dangers. Likewise, however,
we must state that the rumors regarding a break in our relations or any
other kind of threat find no justification whatsoever in our good
conscience; in no way, therefore, will we be pressured by any of our
brothers. This would be demeaning and unacceptable not only for us, but
them as well.
Praying from the depths of our heart that both in peace and good health
you will continue the good fight for the restructuring and spiritual
edification of the Russian people which, to the joy and spiritual pride of
us all, is being renewed with God’s blessings after their hardships, we
remain with indissoluble love in the Lord and esteem.

Your venerable Beatitude’s Beloved brother in Christ,

+BARTHOLOMEW of Constantinople